A Pudgy Flight, A Dicey Ride, And Babul Ki Dua
A visit to the chaotic town of Gorakhpur and a drive to the village of Hallour in UP is not for the faint of heart. But nothing that I cannot handle, except the early morning flight from Mumbai, is packed and the fellow beside me is super pudgy, so his massive overflowing shoulders and elbow squeeze me further into the already petite seat on this budget SpiceJet flight. I would have tolerated the two-hour discomfort by taking a nap since I had to wake up at 4:00 AM this morning to get ready for this flight. But Mr. Chubby has similar ideas and is snoring the moment the aircraft wheels leave earth. He takes deep breaths, snorts midway, and then explodes, exhaling, spreading, and distributing nauseating early morning breath to his two fellow passengers. I shudder and groan aloud and look at the dark, pretty cabin crew facing me in takeoff position for possible help. Although she smiles in compassion, there is very little she can do. The all economy-class flight is chockablock full. I grind my teeth in frustration and try to fruitlessly maneuver to a more comfortable position. The guy continues this ruckus throughout the flight. Try having breakfast of idli, sambar, and hot tea with a super stocky elbow digging into your ribs; you will fail miserably. These are some of the most painful couple of hours in my illustrious travel life. Chubbyji startles awake when we land with a thud and looks around wildly, as if in some sort of panic. Both his other neighbor and I glare at him in ire but all he does is give us a sheepish grin and yawn wide, making my guts want to spill.
Fakrul Hassan and Kaiyanaat the driver are at Gorakhpur airport to receive me. Kaiyanaat instantly reminds me of Chubbyji from my flight earlier. But he is an incredible driver. I would have instantly hit someone or something in five minutes of driving a vehicle in India generally, but for sure between the airport and Hallour. Kaiyanaat defies the laws of gravity and physics as he barrels his car through the traffic, vehicles, humans, and animals along the way. On a busy, chaotic intersection, a mahout tries to navigate his weary and reluctant elephant through the thick of humans and cars, creating a nasty traffic snarl. The intersection is manned by a lathi-totting harassed pot-bellied traffic cop looking up and yelling at the mahout, flailing his arms in furor; I can see the yellowing patch of sweat-stains on his once-white uniform armpits. The elephant is unmoved by the cop, he raises his trunk to his master for reassurance. The cop thinks the animal is readying to attack and panics, bolting from his position, his body parts jiggling all over as if giggling in ridicule. Lo! I would be in intense merriment if it was not for the utter chaos and the ear-piercing decibel from the honking of frustrated vehicle drivers and motorbike riders. We reach Hallour about three hours later. I am in one piece.
I am in Hallour to inspect the new computer lab, library, and the tiling of CAI’s best-performing school in India. All is in order, except for minor blunders, inevitable in a remote village location like Hallour – these will be corrected – to CAI standards. Apart from going to consume three meat-laden meals at my host’s home, I do not venture outside the Agrahani Hotel & Marriage Center, the only decent hotel in Hallour, all of 2-star, where I am put up. The room reeks of stale cigarette smoke and the bedsheet has a dubious stain and three strands of feminine hair on it, from the length of them. I want to scream out of frustration but console myself that this pain is only for one night. I’m exhausted and should be able to sleep.
I do. I’m temporarily dead for about a couple of hours until a marriage party starts up somewhere near with a combination of Hindu bhajans and old Bollywood tearjerker songs. Dear sweet Allah. It’s nonstop. And it is loud. The bhajans I don’t know but a song, played after every bhajan stands out – babul ki duayen leti ja sung by late Mohammed Rafi for the movie Neel Kamal produced in 1968. After a while, I feel like weeping like the bride’s father. I feel so sorry for her, what must she be going through? I hope she was able to enjoy her night with some joy instead of all this gloom and tears. I am in absolute anguish until the time of fajr. The tune swirls in my head as I recite my prayers and still rings today as I complete this Blog.